Getting started with 3D modelling

My other module this semester has been in 3D Modelling and Rendering. This, again, was an area I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time but never found suitable resources (and have you seen the price of that software!?).

We worked with AutoDesk 3DS Max — not my personal choice, I’d much rather work with Maxon Cinema 4D but there you go — and the focus was on modelling a car, in this case a Delorean DMC-12.

One thing that’s been putting me off working in 3D for a long time is that it’s hard to get your head around navigating 3D space on a 2D screen. It doesn’t immediately make sense, you don’t know where you’re clicking and it gets frustrating when you place a cube only to find it’s not in fact right in front of you and tiny, but far away and massive.

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Once you’ve worked out how to use 4 different views at once though, it quickly starts to come together. I developed the car starting with the wheel arches, then simply dragging out new polygons across the body, using only some orthographic drawings as reference.

Early stages of the body coming together
Adding finer details, such as the spoliers and headlights
Smoothing off some of the edges with “openSubDiv” — an open source tool developed by Pixar

Turns out, once you get into it modelling can be really enjoyable. It’s a process that has no real end; you could refine details further and further ad infinitum, it only really stops when you run out of time and have to think about materials, lighting, cameras and everything else. It can be frustrating too at times but ultimately it’s a rewarding task.

Next, we had to create a photorealistic version of the model. This relies on finding suitable materials, setting up lights, scenery and cameras so that you can capture the image correctly. It’s hard work, and if I’m honest I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much.

I wouldn’t say I managed the most amazing results, but I was fairly happy with what I’d managed. I definitely should have spent more time on this, but deadlines are deadlines.

Personally, the idea of photorealistic 3D modelling doesn’t excite me. I love the world of possibilities that exist with 3D modelling and animation. I love low-poly designs, visual effects, orthographic perspectives and everything else. 3DS Max is a powerful program and it’s been really helpful learning how to navigate in 3D, but I definitely want to start working on C4D next.

Some things I’ve learned:

  • Modelling is a complex process, but just like programming you have to learn to think in how your program works. It’s like solving a puzzle, working out what tools are best for the job and being able to see what you’re aiming for.
  • Plan ahead and spread out your time across your tasks. A useful tip in life I guess, but this really applied in this module. I spent way too much time modelling and perfecting the shape, and was left without enough time to add better materials.
  • Learn how lighting, colours and cameras work. In almost all settings, colours will adjust based on what they’re surrounded by and how light is reflected. It’s really important to have a basic understanding of how this works.
  • More detail means more rendering. It can take anywhere from a minute to days to render whatever you’re working on. Save and test often!
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